' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: Does one adoption spawn another? Too often for comfort.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Does one adoption spawn another? Too often for comfort.

Jane & I bought the same black stone washed jeans independentl
As many of the comments regarding the previous post about "I'm Having Their Baby" centered around whether or not adoptees are more likely to give up their babies than the non adopted, I wanted to follow up and am posting below a section of the memoir I'm working on that covers that very issue. The court case in which I first heard of any adoptee also being a mother who surrenders occurred in 1976, and that is where this section begins:
(from Hole in My Heart, copyright 2012) 
I am in court room again, this time in Superior Court in Atlantic City for four women who had been adopted as infants in New Jersey. Today is nothing like the first time I testified in court, today I am breezing in to push my agenda. I’m in a tailored black suit, all business this time, not intimidated by opposing counsel, or anything, really. My testimony is sharp, my tone determined, world, hear me Roar!  “I desperately want those records open so that when my daughter is eighteen she can find me.” This time the story is covered by The Times,[1] and ABC-TV in New York. Good thing Mom knows. Thank god she supports me.
Adoptee Penny Partridge, who came from Pennsylvania to testify, says: “We want to be like everyone else. We didn’t come out of an agency. We came out of a human being. It meant a lot to just to have a name.”
In the ladies room during a break, I come across one of the adopted women bringing the suit, standing over the sink, weeping profusely. When I try to console her she says between sobs, “What you said—about never forgetting—it’s true—I’m a mother too. I gave up a child  too.”
Sometimes you just can’t think of the right thing to say. The look of horror on my face would have to do. Being adopted is terrible enough, who would go out and willingly wreck her life further by giving up a child? Plus, how could anybody adopted go ahead and inflict the same angst on another? A rhetorical question that adoptees and first mothers sometimes bat around is: Whose pain is worse? Is it worse to give away a child, or to be given away? The difference is this: We mothers had a time when we were not birth mothers. We had a before. Adoptees did not. But we have only ourselves to blame, we had sex, so we self-inflicted this wound, that compounds our guilt, and grief. The question is a circle, it has no answer.
This woman has both an endless hole in the space of her identity, and a void where there should be a child. She wants her original birth record so she can find her mother, but what about her baby? What about him? The depth of her grief is stacked up like planes at LAX, she is seemingly inconsolable.
That double whammy—adoptee/birth mother--is not all that unusual. Attend an adoption-reform conference, you run into the women who did this so often your head spins, your heart leaps. The one hard statistic I could find indicates that adoptees are seven times more likely than the general population to relinquish a child themselves.[2] Seven times.
There in that ladies room, I give the woman a long hug and pull out a tissue to wipe her mascara that’s running down her cheeks. We both have to go back into the courtroom, face the others assembled there, face the world and carry on.
Several months later,[3] the judge in New Jersey rules that adoptees have a deep-seated need to learn their origins and should have easier access to their records, but he stops short of writing that they have a constitutional right to their original records. In his 26-page opinion, Judge Philip A. Gruccio states that judges should consider the psychological needs of the adopted person to learn the truth of their origins when deciding such cases. However, each will have to go to court individually to prove real need. While those four women did not gain access to their original birth records, the wording of the decision makes it seem as if the door to the truth is at least ajar.
Not so fast. --Lorraine Dusky, from her forthcoming memoir, Hole In My Heart

[1] Donald Janson, “Adopted Children Seeking Changes in Law on Finding Natural Parents,” New York Times, Oct. 27, 1976.  
[2] Moore, N. & Davidson, J. K., A profile of adoption placers: Perceptions of pregnant teens during the decision-making process. Adoption Quarterly, 6(2), 29-41. The sampling was small (178) and in the southwest, where religious attitudes may have skewed the statistic somewhat due to prohibitions against abortion. But clearly something besides chance is at work here.
The late Annette Baran, a leading authority on adoption and one of the authors of The Adoption Triangle, confirmed this when we spoke. Jean Strauss, whose memoir Birthright: The Guide to Search and Reunion for Adoptees, Birthparents,and Adoptive.. (right) is about her own search and reunion, discovered her natural mother was also an adoptee. Straus later found her grandmother and reunited the two of them, and made a film of the reconnecting of the three of them. In one of my favorite adoption books (by non-adoptees), Being Adopted: The Lifelong Search for Self by David Brodzinsky, Marshall Schechter and Robin Marantz Henig, the authors write of a complicated sexual expression for adopted teenagers: “Adopted teenagers who were born to teenage mothers may feel the cycle repeating itself in their own sexual behavior. Adoptive mothers who agonized over their own infertility may feel jealous and resentful of their daughter’s developing fecundity….Some [adopted teenagers]deliberately become pregnant to undo what they feel to be their birth mother’s mistakes. And some go in the opposite direction, shying away even from healthy sexual experimentation because they are so aware of where that landed their birth mothers.”
Adoptee memoirs came out after abortion became legal often contain include the author's own abortions, and their rather quick and, all things considered, uncomplicated decisions to have an abortion rather than make a different choice. “I know my birth mother and I are alike in this,” Strauss wrote in Beneath a Tall Tree, “we return  home form a hospital, empty and childless. I believe we both wish we could have made different choices, not about adoption or abortion, but about the choice of letting ourselves become pregnant in the first place.” Sarah Saffian in Ithaka: A Daughter's Memoir of Being Found wrote: “…for me, a mistaken pregnancy myself, having an abortion had been a particular tragedy” though she gives no explanation that this affected her more than any other woman who had not been adopted. Neither Strauss nor Saffian expressed that they were unusually distraught over their decision due to their being adopted. 

[3] Donald Janson, “Jersey Eases Access to Adoption Records,” New York Times, Feb. 5, 1977. 

Also see from FMF:
Previous post: 'I'm Having Their Baby' turns into 'I'm keeping MY baby'
and on the same issue of adoptees becoming first/birth mothers themselves: 

 Does adoption run in families?
 Doubly Damned by Adoption turns Victim into a Fighter

And for more great research on the effect of adoption/abortion, see Malinda at AdoptionTalk:

Emotional/Psychological Effects of Abortion & Adoption Placement for Minors ______________________________ 

Beneath a Tall Tree: "Not only is this an incredibly moving human story, it's as exciting as any detective story..." -- Annette Baran, author of "The Adoption Triangle"  Jean is a friend and I heartily recommend both her books. 

Ithaka: A Daughter's Memoir of Being Found (left) made me a little nuts. While it is well-written, I wanted to throw it against the wall at various parts. It struck me that much of her initial and continuing distancing from her biological parents had to do with their vastly different social and economic status. Adoptive parents may like this book; when multiple adopter Rosie O'Donnell (as editor) drove McCall's magazine into the ground for good, she hired Saffian as a columnist. Nontheless, some adoptees may find the difficulties in relating to her mother and father familiar.


  1. "The one hard statistic I could find indicates that adoptees are seven times more likely than the general population to relinquish a child themselves.[2] Seven times."

    I'm speechless! Which you know for me is a very rare occurrence.

  2. I just have one question about a question you asked that stood out to me...why does it have to be "who's pain is more"? You cqnnot measure another persons pain. Someone who had a miscarriage just might be as devistated as someone who lost a child in death. You dont know what another person feels. Pain and suffering cannot be judged by someone else.

  3. You have a point Roni, who can measure another person's pain? I have had a miscarriage which weirdly didn't leave me with half the pain that having an abortion left me with.

    Some people report having no anguish at all about having an abortion, while I am vehemently pro-choice I very much wish my circumstances had been different. Some women like myself, grieve the choice.

    Still, for me, I guess what rubs is that, for women who have infertility as an issue, and the resources to acquire someone else's child, idk, kind of reminds me of Marie Antionette's famous misquotation, "Let them eat cake!" To be in such a situation, is a result of so much privilege.

    I have been a woman who desperately wanted to have a large family. My life circumstances combined with my Protestant value-system, did not allow for me to bring children into the world I could not care for.

    Maybe it is because I don't expect the world to bend to my will, because it has always failed to do so, but yeah it is hard for me to compare a never-born child to a born one, although I am well aware that there is pain involved.

    I have my struggles, there are many other people with much larger ones. I can respect both those things.

  4. This is the comment I was referring to. I used the miscarriage/child death as an example.

    "A rhetorical question that adoptees and first mothers sometimes bat around is: Whose pain is worse? Is it worse to give away a child, or to be given away? The difference is this: We mothers had a time when we were not birth mothers"

    The point I was trying to make is who asks this kind of question? Rhetorical or not. You cannot compare pain...to tell an adoptee their pain isnt as bad as a birth mom or vice versa ... it is all an individual perspective and how THEY feel. If a therapist sat at their desk day after day listening to peoples pain and were compairing the level of pain SHE thought they had...ohh well Samantha's pain isnt as bad an Joans pain...how good of a therapist would she be?

    I dont know if I am getting this across the way I intend to because I feel like my brain is being blocked. I just wanted to know why Lorraine would even have a question like that, rhetorical or not. This is the second time this comparison of pain has come up this week on this blog and now I am wondering if that is the general opinion of the writers here.

  5. How many angels dance on the head of a pin? Unanswerable question, no? Same is true of pain yet one can post it rhetorically. Carol Anderson is the one who said to me, adoptees have a time before unknowingness. Roni, aren't there all kinds of "questions" that do not have definite answers? I say, answering your question with a question. If this came up twice recently it is because the last two blogs are very much connected, really one subject....

  6. There are always some people who are adoptees and first mothers, adoptees and adoptive mothers, first mothers and adoptive mothers. Maybe people gravitate towards what they are familiar with? I don't really know and have no theory on this but it is an interesting phenomenon.

    The adoptees of my generation I knew who had also surrendered a child seemed to have been dealing with the same pressures and family shame the rest of us were; no idea what that is like now.

  7. Well, looking at this issue from a distance, only 2 out of the 199 mothers covered in that Dutch Domestic adoption report had been adopted themselves... A number of possible explanations suggest themselves:

    1) Genetics
    2) Known devil
    3) Adoption friendly family.
    4) Adoptive family less willing to save the baby for the family
    5) Following the bad example
    Such factors will interact of course, a mother resembling her own mother might be saved if her adopters do fight for their ad- grandchild the way they would fight for their b-grandchild.

  8. Theodore: Interesting difference with that Dutch stat compared to one here. It may have to do with the more relaxed attitude towards sex (more sex information and birth control available to younger people, more forgiving attitude towards abortion) and its consequences (better social services for single mothers). Take away the evangelical/Mormon/fundamentalist anti-abortion belief system, and you would see far fewer adoptions in America.

  9. Both were adopted from (Latin) America, and one stated her A-family, supported her freedom of choice, what to do with her pregnancy, abortion, fostering, parenting, all available and the girl selected adoption.

    Nevertheless, I guess that a very important difference is formed by the position of fosterparents, both legally and socially. Improving that, so the loving parents of a child that is not legally theirs, don't need adoption anymore, would probably help a lot.

  10. I had heard a long time ago that daughters repeat the birth experiences of their mother's. I have seen this in practice in life (mother has unplanned pregnancy as a teen, so does daughter, for example). But cannot find any info on it on the web.

  11. Katie, that might be true, I mean a daughter is half her mother, so genetically influences on behaviour can be expected to be similar...
    On the other hand, her own mother is a very handy role model, certainly if her mom is infertile. Looking at the number of adopted girls in the Netherlands, I would expect that the number of them, which will be confronted with a surprise pregnancy in a decade will exceed two by a considerable factor. So it can be said with absolute certainty that not all unmarried adopted gravidae, will see adoption as their choice, of course. Evidence seems rather anecdotal, but unfortunately very common.



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